48 peaks, 12 times - Hooksett’s Bill Schor completes the ‘Grid’
Bill Schor, now 66, is such an avid hiker that he is just the 29th hiker on record to have completed the “NH 48 Grid,” which he accomplished by climbing each of the 48 over-4,000-foot mountain peaks in the White Mountains at least once during each month of any given year. For example, according to his own charted grid, he hiked to the summit of Mt. Washington in January 2012, February 2009, March 2005, April 2009, May 2009, June 2009, July 2008, August 1999, September 1996, October 1996, November 2009 and December 2011. By completing the grid, he has had the unique experience of climbing each of New Hampshire’s highest mountains during all of the seasonal vagaries of New England, most of which he has climbed on day trips with his wife by his side. He completed his grid on Mt. Jefferson on Dec. 13.
Each mountain peak during each season holds its own challenges, so the grid is a particularly demanding and rewarding goal for a New Hampshire hiker.
Mount Nancy, for example, although only 3,926 feet tall, is particularly difficult because it is a “bushwack” mountain, meaning that the hike is off-trail, with no markers – just the hiker versus nature.
“There are a lot of areas up there where you’re not allowed to even break a branch,” said Schor. “You’re on your own,” he said. “No signs. It’s all part of the wilderness.”
Owl’s Head and Isolation are other bushwack hikes.
“April and May are the worst months” for hiking, said Schor.
“You have a thing called the monorail,” he said, where the trail is hard packed. When the snow starts melting, it starts on the sides of the trails, so the snow packs in the middle. The trails then start to give out and “the snow can’t hold your weight,” he said, “so you posthole down into the snow,” which he described as your body abruptly breaking through the top layer of snow and just falling straight down like a fence pole.
Spruce traps are another danger, he explained.
“The trails are cluttered with tons and tons of debris,” he said. The snow covers the blown-down trees so the hikers can’t see what’s underneath. This is particularly dangerous for off-trail hiking. “So you’re walking along with your snowshoes,” he said, “and you’ll step and you’ll come down to your chest.”
The branches then get caught up in the snowshoes, making it almost impossible to escape. “You try to dig your way out of there,” he said, “but you can’t get your snowshoes off because you can’t reach down far enough.” He recalled one fellow hiker who had been hiking solo who fell into a spruce trap. Had she not had a GPS tracker to beacon for help, she might not have survived.
Summer hiking, he says, is “Horrible! Bring a lot of bug spray and cold water.”
“Keep an extra pair of clothes in the car and extra water to wash up,” said Diane.
Winter, though, holds its own challenges. “We’ve been in complete whiteouts coming off Mt. Washington,” said Schor. “The snow was all drifted, so it was all one big slope – there’s no discernible trail.”
There have also been scary hikes “with high winds and chunks of ice hitting you in the head,” he said.
But winter hiking is also easier in that “you’re not going over rocks and roots,” said Diane, “but you have to walk further because you’re walking the roads.”
Also, darkness comes in earlier in the winter, she said, “so you have to have your headlamps and be prepared to come out in the dark.”
Why do it?
So, why would this otherwise normal-looking couple spend an inordinate amount of time on New Hampshire’s mountains?
“Our oldest son got us involved with it, when he was in college at UNH,” said Bill Schor. Now that he has hiked more than 730 peaks, he and Diane have both met some “incredible people.”
Just recently, in hiking with four friends, Schor recalled that they “laughed and sang songs for nine-and-a-half hours during the 14.5 mile trek.”
Although temperatures never got above 10 degrees and winds “were deadly,” he referred to it as “a glorious day in the mountains.”
They’ve also seen some incredible sights.
“I love doing the Madison, Adams and Jefferson” peaks, said Schor. “Eisenhower is beautiful,” chimed in Diane; “it’s perfect in the wintertime.” Schor recalls doing 33 miles in the Pemi Loop one day, meaning the Pemigewasset Loop in the Twin and Franconia Ranges.
“That’s a heck of a loop with several Prezzi traverses,” she said.
Their most favorite sight one was a sunset at West Bond.
“It was just breathtaking,” said Diane. “We did an overnight and backpack out.”
In addition to the magnificent vistas, the wildlife on the trail can be awe inspiring. Although they’ve never seen a bear in the wild, they did have an exhilarating encounter with a charging moose that had come up behind Bill and rubbed against his shoulder.
“Diane’s eyeballs got really big,” said Schor, when she saw it running toward him. They’ve also run into moose (although not as literally) in some of their bushwack hikes.
Diane expressed particular delight in her frequent encounter with gray jays. Cornell’s ornithology guide confirms that “the deceptively cute gray jay is one of the most intrepid birds in North America,” and is “highly curious and always on the lookout for food.”
Schor has numerous photos of the birds eating peanuts out of Diane’s hand.
“They have regular places you’ll see them all the time,” she said.
The couple has also seen bald eagles, wild turkey and other majestic birds.
They also recalled seeing a deer at the Kinsman ridge that was “making all kinds of noise and stomping her feet,” presumably to misdirect them from her fawn.
For new hikers, Schor shared some advice.
“You have to have good map and compass skills,” he said; “Don’t rely on GPS. It’s a good tool, but don’t rely on it.”
Knowing the weather forecast is also critical.
“Don’t take chances,” said Diane. “If you get to a certain area and the wind comes in or a storm comes in, turn around,” she said.
In the summer, prepare for mosquitoes and black flies.
“It’s good to get in with a good group,” said Schor. If there is an emergency on the mountain, you have strength in numbers.
If you’re crossing a brook or river in the winter, “you don’t want to walk on the rocks because they’re glazed with ice,” said Bill. “You’re better off stepping on a rock that’s underwater. We’ve taken off our boots and gone through barefoot.”
For the winter, “as cold as it is, as long as you’re moving, you’re all set,” he said. “You’ve got to regulate your temperature.” To do that properly, you dress in layers. To avoid sweating, which will let moisture get into your clothes, you take off layers and “even take your mittens and hat off to let some heat escape.” He also advises to have dry clothes available if you do get sweaty.
For folks looking to get into shape or who just want a local hike, Bill Schor recommends the Nottingcook Forest Trail right near the Hooksett line in Bow, off of Pine Street. Schor has spent a great deal of time on that hike, where he got back into action and did his “rehab hiking” after a severe injury in 2010 when his ankle “exploded in nine pieces” he said, after a 600-foot fall on a trail in Waterville Valley.
“You can do a nice 7-mile loop” on the Nottingcook Trail, he said. “If you get a lot of snow, there’s beautiful snowshoeing there,” as well.
“Start easy; don’t go nuts,” he said. “Go to Nottingcook and get some snowshoes.”